Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel continues to be a well-known fashion icon years after her death. She is the woman who popularized pearls and the now infamous “little black dress.” Coco was also known for being incredibly private about her past and for leading people astray about her upbringing. In the new biography Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History, author Rhonda K. Garelick sorts through the fact and fiction of the life of a woman who made a living off of an image.
Garelick’s coverage is admirable. She begins Chanel’s less than glamorous dead beat father and her time in the simple black dress of a girl raised in a convent school after the passing of her mother. She shows disconnect between Chanel’s family and the sense of isolation that started for the young entrepreneur. Garelick pulls no punches, highlighting Coco’s affairs with men and even pointing out when she stole a man from a close friend. An entire section of the book focuses on Chanel’s anti-Semitism and possible support of Germany during World War 2. However, the book also has moments of reverence for Coco Chanel. Garelick speaks highly of her business prowess, and admirably about how Chanel pulled herself up from virtually nothing to become recognized the world over. The biographer even briefly indulgences in a visit to the House of Chanel.
Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History is a hefty well-researched book that is as pleasant as a quick spray of Chanel #5. For those interested in the often misconstrued history of Coco Chanel and her empire, this biography (like Chanel herself) certainly makes an impression.